Hank Brekke

March 19, 2014,

Teaching a Connected Classroom

The students entering schools are coming from a new generation—they are students where digital technology has always been common everywhere you look. These students have grown up surrounded by technology, and they’ve never lived without being connected to the internet. With these big changes on how kids are thinking, teaching these students starts taking on a whole new meaning—these kids don’t need information and memorization skills—they’re surrounded with instant access to information with the internet—they just need to understand what they’re taking in, and how to use it.

The internet gives anyone instant access to vast deposits of infinite knowledge, including mathematical formulas, chemical compounds, lengthy descriptions of the big bang theory, and vast other resources that could never be held in one student’s memory. There are websites that solve any math equation step-by-step, showing kids different ways to simplify the equation for an ellipse or dissecting the quadratic formula. With all this information available, it seems like a teacher’s job could be eliminated completely. But that’s not entirely true—a teacher’s job is changing, just like the new generation of students.

A Generation Always Connected

Living as a high school student, I’ve never been disconnected from technology throughout my life. Of course there are times when I’m away from my phone and need to solve an issue at work, but there is never a time when a problem I’m hitting is too challenging for a few searches to help me solve. Often times, a search finds exactly what I’m looking for as soon as I can find the right way to phrase what I’m looking for, but being able to dissect a problem into smaller chunks may be the only way to finish an entire issue. Without being able to break these problems down, I would have no idea where to start with my research, and the internet instantly loses its value.

In school, teachers discourage the use of technology—especially using smartphones during class. Understandably, phones can easily make it exponentially harder for students to focus, but they also can be a vital resource to showing your kids what you’re teaching them. Some schools, including the one I attend myself, offer a policy to give teachers the discretion of what to do with their phones, but currently, most teachers don’t use the technology to enrich their teaching.

Teaching a Smarter Classroom

Digital devices like tablets, laptops, cell phones and other devices have always been full of educational apps, games, quizzes and other resources that continue unused as an educational tool. Do some research on software that might help motivate your students to learn—but keep in mind the challenge level you’re offering to your students. Most educational games are usually targeted at a younger age group. Giving these kids the power to learn the number line, and start making connections between different mathematical operations at their own pace, through an interactive game helps make their learning more fun, and your teaching job a lot easier.

When the fun and games end, students need to learn ways to solve problems on their own, and using the internet as their source can help kids find answers. Many students lack some vital skills they need to research their issue and come to an informed answer. When facing an issue, you need to be break down your problem into smaller chunks—and create new questions that have an answer you can easily find, rather than one big bulky issue. Then, you need to adapt the answer you find into the context of your own situation, and make sure the puzzle pieces fit together. And finally, you need to check your full solution to make sure all the pieces you found are working together.

For example, during app development, the question “How do we retain the users data between uses,” often appears again and again. From here, we branch out into several different situations—saving data in a cloud service like iCloud; and saving the data on the device in case they’re not using iCloud, or when they aren’t connected to the internet. Our first search, “Saving documents in iCloud” brings us to a confusing document, and all we can take out of it are that we need to use the UIDocument class. Next, because the documents we found earlier didn’t help us much, we need to search how these UIDocument’s get saved into iCloud. As the chain continues, we eventually find some code to copy and paste, but it doesn’t fit exactly. We need to update a few things before it’ll fit without giving us errors in the editor, like names of variables and the type of data saved. This stringing continues until we finally build the app, and find that saving documents into iCloud is working. Success!

Project-Based Learning

Following a model like that, called Project-Based Learning, kids can be taught how to do anything, and when they are discovering these solutions on their own, they’ll have the freedom to learn at their own speed, and learn what they find interesting. In a classroom, these situations may be more guided, but giving students the ability to research on their own or in groups will help not only teach them about your subject, but important problem solving skills they’ll need in the future.

As a teacher, your job is changing. Kids always have access to this huge bank of information, but you’re the one to show them how to use it for their advantage. Showing kids how to leverage technology makes your classroom more interesting, more engaging and less work.

To find out more about this way of teaching, start your search chain with “Project-Based Leaning for high school classrooms.” Also, keep in mind that I’m a high school student, so you may want to take my opinions with a grain of salt, as most teachers have had years of further education, and I have not.

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